VICELAND's 'Abandoned' Explores Forgotten Urban Landscapes

Somewhere near Akron, Ohio, pro skateboarder Rick McCrank follows two young men into what was once the largest shopping mall in town. Once they're inside the dark, dank, mold-filled walls, the trio set out on a ghost-hunting mission. "We're the only ones here, but we're not the only ones here," one man explains. "Whenever you feel like you're being watched or you're seeing movement, most likely you are."

The ever-affable McCrank takes this revelation in stride, and then follows the man and his friend out to the parking lot for a quick lesson in demon blasting. Later, McCrank throws on a white sheet, hops on his board, and glides through the mall's empty hallways, looking like the afterlife's most graceful skate ghost.

This, in a nutshell, is Abandoned. Part travel log, part epic skate vid, and part in-depth documentary series, the VICELAND show follows McCrank as he explores North America's strangest deserted spaces and talks to the people closest to them. He also infiltrates local skate scenes to show how these empty lots and cast-off buildings can become vibrant, sustainable playgrounds for the next generation.

"I guess you would call me the reluctant host," McCrank laughs. "I'm an introvert, so it's hard for me to talk to people I don't know. But my best friends were making the show, and I liked the idea of getting to work and travel and learn things with my friends."

At 40, the soft-spoken street, park, and vert legend is no stranger to the camera. Since turning pro in the mid 90s, Crankers has starred in well over a dozen skate videos, dabbled in photography, and even tried his hand at acting. As a longtime member of Girl's pro team, he's also made a name for himself as one of skating's most versatile, humble, and down-to-earth dudes, making him the ideal ambassador for the sport—both within and beyond the haunted mall scene.

Leading up to Friday's 9 PM premiere of Abandoned on VICELAND, we spoke to McCrank from his home in Vancouver.

VICE: In the pilot for Abandoned, you talk about how you hated malls growing up. Why? 
Rick McCrank: They were like factories of shame. I'm one of three siblings raised by a single mom, and we grew up on welfare. We didn't have anything, so when I would go to the mall, I'd be like, "I can't have any of this stuff at all." I felt like I wasn't even allowed to be in there. Even now, I don't really dress fancy, so when I go to a mall, I feel like a frump intruding on this other world.

When did you start skating? 
I was 11. My oldest brother was getting into a lot of trouble, so social workers suggested he go and live with my dad to have more stability. He ended up moving to another city, and when he left, he gave me his skateboard as a goodbye present. When he came back to visit, he was like, "Whoa, I don't like skateboarding with you anymore because you got way better than me."

Was there ever a point where you thought, Skateboarding is going to be my career? 
I've claimed that I never said I wanted to be a pro, but my brother swears I always talked about it. For most skaters, it's just what they love to do—it becomes them. I got sponsored by a local skate shop in Ottawa, and then I ended up moving to the West Coast to snowboard. When I was in the Vancouver area, I met the local skate pros, and they thought I was good and helped me out from there. It sort of just happened for me. Pretty much my whole life just happened for me. This show just happened for me.

How did filming Abandoned compare to skate trips? 
Sometimes we spent ten days in one town, which never happens on a skate trip. The skating wasn't as intense, too. It was more about connecting with skaters at the skateparks and skate spots to get a taste of the local scenes. In St. Louis, we went there, and we all like fell in love with that city. It's such a great place. I don't know if I would have felt that way if I was only there for a day or two.

Did working on the show change your perspective on the skate community at-large? 
It reminded me that the scene is really strong and connected. We'd hook up with these local skate shop crews, and I was blown away at how talented and dedicated they were. When we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, the skate shop team there was filming a video, and they were taking it as seriously as all the pros take it. It was crazy. They were basically killing themselves to get these tricks, so they could put out the best product possible. We talk a lot about the skateboarding DIY ethic, which states that if you don't have it, you build it—you make it. You don't care if the police or the city are going to tear it down in a month—if the community needs it, you make it happen for your community. I saw a lot of people doing things out of love, and not for anything other than that. We like to talk about how skateboarders see negative spaces as positive things—they see a lot of opportunity in them, and they don't like places to go to waste.

The show talks a lot about nostalgia, and you interview a lot of people who romanticize about the past. On a personal level, how did those conversations resonate? 
I live in Vancouver, which is a boom town, so it gets rebranded every decade. New buildings get knocked down and rebuilt all the time—it's almost like the town doesn't have an identity because it doesn't stay around long enough to make one. Where I've been in my life, the change has come from progress—not from loss. But there's also loss in progress. I lived in Whistler when it was a small ski town, and now it's this giant place with a big outdoor mall.

How do you see loss in progress? 
In Vancouver, there's a lot of money, and the property is worth a lot. So much money is coming in that people who don't have money are getting pushed out. The affordable places are being torn down and replaced by more, bigger, fancier places, where bigger, fancier people are moving in. The underprivileged and the youth are getting pushed out of a town they love. Most of my friends can't afford to buy a house now, and if they want to buy a house, they're gonna move away, which is heartbreaking for me. That's the loss—with progress, especially in a boom town, you're gonna lose a certain demographic that is vital. Artists who don't make a shit-ton of money need studio space, and if they can't afford it here, they are gonna go to the town that they can afford it. Money ends up pushing out the regular people.

What do you hope to accomplish with Abandoned? 
We tried to show the places that people think are bad and tarnished—the places people call "the wrong side of the tracks." In St. Louis, the city is divided by a street, and you don't go on the other side of the street because it's "the bad side of town." But the people who were telling us this were also telling us that they'd never been there. The nature of the show is to go to places that are affected by all kinds of things—including economic downturn and socioeconomic problems, which meant going to where the poor people are. Every single time we did, we met the best, most sincere people and felt completely at home and welcomed. That's what we're trying to show with Abandoned; we need to stop putting up all these barriers around our neighbors and start realizing that we're all the same because these barriers are affecting our neighborhoods more than anyone understands.

Watch Abandoned Friday nights at 9 PM EST on VICELAND